Stress and the Mentally Ill Child

April 22, 2014 Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

April is Stress Awareness Month according to Stress is common to all people, but it is especially challenging for a child with mental illness. I know how stress affects me, but I can also tell when it affects Bob. Parenting a child with mental illness also means dealing with stress as a trigger instead of being a by-product. Here are some tips to help your child with mental illness.

Look for signs of stress

They are easier to spot than you think. If your child isn't sleeping enough or getting enough to eat (both of which can be side effects to medication), your child is much more sensitive to feeling stress. In Bob's case, he has had some difficulty with eating and sleeping. As he's older now and has been on medication for some time, we've come up with ways to make sure that he gets regular sleep and eats well. Bob snacks often and is at a healthy weight. If you start with these, you can actually help stop stress before it starts.

Know that school can trigger stress in your child

We often think of school as a place for learning and socializing instead of a trigger for stress. A child with mental illness can see school in a very negative light. As a young child, Bob hated school. He especially hated doing writing assignments and had trouble socially. It was because his ADHD was undiagnosed for so long. The good thing has been that since his diagnosis and treatment, Bob has a new appreciation for school. His teachers have been very supportive and encouraging. But, it took us a long time to get there. Once you know that your child has stress because of school, you can talk to your child's teacher about how to help your child at home.

Even we parents can cause stress for our children

I include myself in this. Due to my need to make sure that Bob is okay and forgetting that I'm only human, I find it hard not to tell him what to do all of the time. Bob gets frustrated and annoyed with me if I repeat myself over and over again. Sometimes, I wonder if I've learned anything at all about his illness. I worry so much about his success and his future that I end up letting it affect my parenting. I also know that when I don't take care of myself, it is much easier for me to be stressed out and then allow that to affect Bob. And when I think about my own childhood, I think about how my own parents drove me nuts. It's normal. It happens.

Many parents that I work with don't want to hear this. They want to believe that they are helping their children all of the time and so do I. But, I know that I've gone off the deep end when Bob reacts in a negative way. That shows me that I need to step back and let him be.

Sometimes we parents think that parenting a child with mental illness is a rough deal, but imagine being that child. When you walk in your child's shoes, you can actually see that it is much harder than anything else to deal with. Stress can be a result of mental illness, but it can also be a trigger. When you know about your child's triggers, you can help your child manage his or her stress in a healthy way.

You can also connect with Heiddi Zalamar on Twitter.

APA Reference
Zalamar, H. (2014, April 22). Stress and the Mentally Ill Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 13 from

Author: Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Leave a reply